6 Deadly Sins of Writing a Mystery by Paty Jager

Every mystery writer wants to write the best who-dun-it. The one who kept the reader guessing to the end and then has the reader saying, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.”  But the writer has to beware of the 6 things that can make them lose readers.

  1. Fair play – All clues discovered by the detective must be made known to the reader.
  2. The murderer must be introduced in the story before he is announced as the killer. Someone can’t appear in the last chapter and then is announced as the murderer.
  3. The crime being solved must be significant. Murder, kidnapping, blackmail, theft something that has a significant impact on the story.
  4. The solution can’t be stumbled on. There must be detection done by the protagonist(s). A web of clues that not only misdirects the sleuth but the reader.
  5. The suspects should be known and the murderer among them.
  6. Keep the story to the solving the crime, don’t toss in unnecessary things to throw the reader off.

If a writer keeps these in mind and takes the reader on a journey of discovering one clue after the other, you can still keep the reader guessing as each suspect is slowly dropped from the list.

I like to bring the murderer into the story not as a character on the page but as a character that is alluded to. I used this method in my latest Shandra Higheagle Mystery, Killer Descent.

Some may say that having my amateur sleuth’s grandmother come to her in dreams would be a no-no as stated in number 4. But the dreams don’t give her the clues, they direct her to seeking out the clues. She still has to decipher the dreams and then find the clue. I have a post about it here.

I’m currently writing the next Shandra Higheagle Mystery, Reservation Revenge. Setting it on an actual reservation has been giving me some logistical challenges, but I’m excited to see where the clues lead me. 😉

About Me:

Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 25+ novels and over a dozen novellas and short stories of murder mystery, western historical romance, and action adventure. She has a RomCon Reader’s Choice Award for her Action Adventure and received the EPPIE Award for Best Contemporary Romance. Her first mystery was a finalist in the Chanticleer Mayhem and Mystery Award and is a finalist in the RONE Award Mystery category.  This is what Mysteries Etc says about her Shandra Higheagle mystery series: “Mystery, romance, small town, and Native American heritage combine to make a compelling read.”

All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Paty and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. Riding horses and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it.

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7 thoughts on “6 Deadly Sins of Writing a Mystery by Paty Jager

  1. I agree that the sleuth must solve the murder through deduction, not with dumb luck, coincidence or stumbling into the killer’s lair by accident. And make it a real crime, too. I read one book where the victim died by suicide, not murder. What a cheat! But I think it’s okay to have subplots about family, career and other things just as long as the mystery isn’t ignored.


    1. Sally, I agree, no cheating! There has to be clues dropped along the way that let the reader say, “Oh yeah, I see where they came up with that.” And I like seeing the protagonists in different realms of their life besides solving the mystery. Thanks for commenting!


  2. Paty; fabulous post, and I am reading book right now that lets the reader to ‘get up close and very personal’ with the victim.


      1. Summit Lake by Charlie Donnlea. It’s fantastic and the victim plays an active role, and basically sets up, via flashback, the list of possible perpetrators. I think you would love it.


  3. I love reading mysteries where I get to “meet” the victim, I know different authors use different ways to do this. It just helps makes the story that much more appealing.


    1. That’s what I love about reading and writing! Everyone has their own likes of how they write and what they read.


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